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Wrong move on HIV/AIDS - Local groups disagree with latest global tactic to end the epidemic

Published:Friday | June 10, 2016 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
President of the U.N. General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, right, listens as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon address the opening of the General Assembly high-level meeting on ending AIDS last Wednesday.

Some local civil-society groups are infuriated by a recently adopted 'Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS' that aims to end the epidemic by 2030.

The local groups charge that the declaration focuses more on practising abstinence and faithfulness instead of targeting key populations in the fight to end HIV/AIDS.

A government delegation headed by Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton and a small contingent of civil-society groups represented Jamaica at the just-concluded United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, where the declaration was adopted.

It includes a set of targets that must be reached by 2020 to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. These targets have been accepted by heads of government from around the world.

But the declaration, which is being touted as bold and progressive in some quarters, has been called "a globally sanctioned death warrant" by the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC).




The coalition in a release last Wednesday said while the draft declaration had some positive elements, it believes that the exclusion of key populations might help to push the global HIV epidemic backwards.

"Civil-society organisations worldwide are alarmed by its major and unacceptable deficiencies and have rejected the draft due to its glaring exclusion of key populations, such as gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, migrants, transgender people, and prisoners," said the CVC.

"There will be no ending AIDS by 2030 without a concerted effort to address the needs and human rights of those groups currently marginalised and stigmatised," noted the organisation, which was represented by Dr Carolyn Gomes and Ivan Cruickshank at the high-level meeting.

Executive director of the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, Kandasi Levermore, said she, too, is very disappointed with the declaration as the language around comprehensive sexuality education is not satisfactory.

"We are kind of disappointed that here we are now, five years after 2011, and we are still talking about abstinence and being faithful strategies, and we are not talking about combination HIV prevention and looking at treatment as a true means of prevention, and focusing on the population that are most at risk for contracting HIV," said Levermore.




"It's not that we are being immoral or anything; it is just that we are saying those strategies don't appeal to people because they are not taking the moral high ground when they are having sex.

"People are ruled by their physical attractions and emotions and we have not seen that level of maturity in people when they are making sexual decisions about needing to abstain or needing to be faithful," added Levermore.

Executive director of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), Dane Lewis, told The Sunday Gleaner that the declaration is weak and is, therefore, unlikely to have much of an impact on the work his organisation does.

"It is disappointing that after more than three decades of research and programmes, which have provided us with unquestionable evidence about the crucial role of human rights in getting us closer to an AIDS-free generation, and the recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals agenda which speaks to leaving no one behind, that this 2016 political declaration is so weak in this regard," said Lewis.

"One would think that by now, all governments would appreciate that this is fundamental to fast-tracking the end of AIDS," added Lewis, who also attended the meeting in New York.




Despite his disappointment, Lewis said J-FLAG was pleased that Tufton and the minister of foreign affairs, Kamina Johnson Smith, have committed to forging partnerships to ensure that the country achieves its goal of reducing the impact of HIV.

According to Lewis, he was very impressed with Tufton's interventions at the meeting.

Tufton, in his plenary statement, noted that while Jamaica has made marked progress in reducing HIV infection and eliminating the AIDS epidemic, there is a lot of work to be done.

"While we reaffirm this commitment, Jamaica emphasises that continued attention must be given to comprehensive prevention and treatment - free from discrimination," Tufton told the meeting.

Editors' note: See the full 'Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS' at: http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/documents/2016/2016-political-declara.